By Rep. Jim Harrison
As the Legislature completes its fifth week, I’m reminded how much of the work is quietly done in various committees and often out of the headlines. Only a portion of the bills introduced each session are actually voted on by the full House or Senate. Fewer still get signed into law. Committees act as a filter, deciding which proposals get advanced, sometimes for political reasons, but mostly for what fits in the overall agenda and/or is just a good idea.
The past week saw the first close vote of the session with a 69-74 vote on the House floor turning down an amendment to delay Act 46 state mandated school district mergers by one year. Following the rejection, the House went on to approve a scaled back compromise amendment put forth by the Education Committee that will allow a few selected district mergers that haven’t got merger agreements in place, a delay. The legislation, H.39, now goes to the Senate, where its fate is uncertain.
On Friday, Feb. 8, the Senate passed S.11, which would limit future senate districts to no more than three members. Currently the Chittenden senate district has six members, which can mean a large number of candidates vying for the top six on Election Day. If approved by the House and governor, the change would not take effect until 2022 elections and likely mean the Chittenden district is split up in some fashion, potentially giving Burlington suburbs their own district.
The Senate Judiciary Committee continues its work on a tax and regulate system for marijuana, S.54, and is expected to advance a proposal soon. Meanwhile, another tax and regulate bill, H.196, was introduced in the House with about 50 co-sponsors this past Friday. The House bill is expected to get assigned to the Government Operations Committee, where I am a member.
The sponsor of the House bill, Rep. Sam Young of Greensboro, indicated that backers of the legislation would need to bridge differences with the governor in order to get the bill passed and signed into law. Scott has maintained highway safety and education were key components to gaining his approval.
Also expected to move forward soon are a $15 minimum wage bill in the Senate and a mandatory paid family leave bill in the House. Both issues were vetoed by Scott last year. And in what could prove to be one of the more elusive issues of the session, Act 250 reform, is being deliberated in the House Natural Resources Committee.
A public hearing on H.57 hosted by the House Human Services and Judiciary Committees, attracted an estimated 1,100 people to Montpelier, in spite of icy road conditions, last Wednesday. The 2-plus hour hearing saw emotional and often personal pleas, for and against the proposed legislation. According to at least one media report, a majority of those present wore stickers opposed to H.57.
Following the hearing, the Human Services Committee advanced the bill on an 8-3 vote after removing the line “A fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus shall not have independent rights under Vermont law.” The three Republicans on the committee voted against moving it forward arguing that abortion rights are already protected under current case law in the state and a new statute was unnecessary.
H.57 has been moved to the House Judiciary Committee, which will be taking testimony on the legal issues of the bill.
Scott Chirico Soto of Chittenden and Levi Lynds of Bridgewater were among the 70 young men who were honored by a House resolution congratulating their achievement of Eagle Scout.
The Woodstock Union High School Division III Championship Football Team was honored by a resolution by Representatives Harrison and Szott along with Senators Clarkson, McCormack and Nitka with the team present in the House Chambers this past Thursday.
You may reach me at JHarrison@leg.state.vt.us or my cell, 802-236-3001. Messages may also be left at the State House during the legislative session at 802-828-2228. If you are visiting the Capitol, I am happy to meet up.
Jim Harrison is a state representative for Bridgewater, Chittenden, Killington & Mendon.